Origins of the nyamwezi
- The Nyamwezi are Bantu speaking who belong to the central and Northern Tanzania Bantu.
- They are closely related to other tribes such as Sukuma.
- They are an example of a de-centralized society.
- They had fairly organized political, social and economic features.
- They first settled in central Tanzania around Tabora between 10001500 AD.
- They migrated from the Congo basin and entered Tanganyika through the western part.
- They used the route between Lake Tanganyika and Lake Edward.
- The name Nyamwezi means people from the moon.
- It was given to them by the coastal traders who saw them coming from the direction of the new moon (west).
- Originally, they lived in small chiefdoms bound together by ethnic association.
- During the 19th century, they developed centralized administration during the reigns of Mirambo and Nyungu Ya Mawe.
The structure of the Nyamwezi
- The Nyamwezi lived in small independent chiefdoms of about 1,000 people.
- They were united together by ethnic clan ties.
- The Nyamwezi had a decentralized system of administration.
- Each chiefdom headed by a chief with the title Ntemi.
- The position of the Ntemi was hereditary i.e. his son / close relative succeeded him upon his death.
- The Ntemi had political powers and was in charge of law and order in his chiefdom.
- In case of population explosion in one chiefdom or succession disputes, splits were done and a new chiefdom would be created.
- The Ntemi was assisted by a council of elders called Wanyampala.
- Wanyampala comprised of old, experienced and knowledgeable elders.
- Chiefdoms were further split into small political units headed by clan heads called Gunguli.
- Other important chiefs among the Nyamwezi included ritual officer (Mgawe), Army commander (Mtwale) information officer (Kikoma) Tax /revenue officer (Minule).
- All these took orders from the Ntemi.
- Each chiefdom had an army with a commander appointed by the Ntemi.
- Before going for any battle, the Ntemi had to bless the army.
- The Nyamwezi copied the royal regalia from neighbouring societies such as Bunyoro.
- The Ntemi was the religious leader of his people and linked them to their ancestors.
- The Ntemi was the fountain of the society and received a lot of respect from his people.
- The Ntemi could marry as many wives as he wanted.
- Upon the death of the Ntemi, his body would be buried upright with beer, food and weapons.
- The Nyamwezi also believed in life after death and the spirits of the dead.
- Ntemi would always preside over sacrifices to ancestors on behalf of his people.
- The Ntemi was supposed to stop any calamity that would hit his people, their fields and animals.
- The Nyamwezi were farmers and mainly grew cereals e.g. millet and sorghum.
- The Ntemi always mobilized his people to grow enough food, settle land disputes and guard against misuse of land.
- The Nyamwezi also kept animals for example goats and cattle.
- The Ntemi and his chiefs always kept large herds of animals.
- Tax collection was also part of their economy and the Nyamwezi always collected food as tax.
- The Nyamwezi had established food granaries which were directly under the Ntemi.
- These were used to feed his body guards, members of his palace and other people in case of hunger and famine.
- The Nyamwezi also carried out some fishing to supplement their diet.
- The Nyamwezi locally traded with their neighbours e.g. the Vinza for salt and Zinza for Iron.
- The Nyamwezi also participated in the long distance trade with the coastal Arabs.
- They controlled the central trade route and provided slaves, bee wax, Ivory.
- In return they got guns , beads and clothes .
- Raiding on their neighbours was also a major economic activity carried out by the Nyamwezi.